‘Science by the people, for the people,’ the role of citizen scientists is one of the chapters in a new book launched on International Biodiversity Day during a celebratory day at Kirstenbosch.
This is also the space into which the Green Times fits – translating into ordinary language and spreading important life-sustaining science by the people, for the people.
Our future depends on more ordinary people becoming citizen scientists, cooperating, collaborating, writing and sharing to build a strong and deep green movement to protect our biodiversity and inspire changes fast enough to avoid climate tipping point – an event some now predict could happen within the next decade.
Cape Town took full advantage of the free entrance and good weather to enjoy a day of learning and exploration. Young and old turned into learners for the day to understand biodiversity better – I saw Challenger Daycare preschoolers, senior citizens of the Bellville Catholic Church, high school students participating in the GIS Garden Game and tourists from as far afield as the USA, India and Spain. The GIS Garden Game is a modern treasure hunt where participants receive clues with geographical coordinates and use GPS-enabled smart phones to locate the answers.
Behind the beauty and magic, lies groundbreaking hard work, research and expertise that was showcased during the day’s celebrations, which coincided with SANBI’s 33rd gold medal win at the annual Chelsea Flower Show.
During a Biodiversity breakfast, three science publications were announced:
- ‘SANBI: A Decade of Science 2004 – 2013’ (only available in hard copy) reflects on the history of SANBI over the past 10 years, including the change from the National Botanical Institute to the South African National Biodiversity Institute and the shift from botanical research to biodiversity research. Dr Tanya Abrahamse (SANBI CEO) says, “This book gives a glimpse of the richness of scientific work we have done since 2004, in fulfilling legislative mandate, and illustrates its relevance, impact and contribution at home and internationally.”
- Biodiversity early warning systems: South African citizen scientists monitoring change, “…highlights some exciting ‘crowd-sourcing’ projects undertaken by citizen scientists – people who are passionate about biodiversity and willing to record what they see.”
- Dr Abrahamse says of LIFE: The state of South Africa’s Biodiversity 2012: “This publication captures the essence of an inheritance so worthy of celebration.” According to SANBI, it encourages us “…to appreciate the inherent values of this natural wealth, as well as the role it plays in supporting our nation’s development goals and the lives of each one of our people.”
Prof John Donaldson provided a brief look into the Kirstenbosch leaders and their visions:
- Henry Pearson who emphasised the need for Kirstenbosch to be science based and not just a pretty garden;
- Ronald Compton’s focus was on the taxonomy (or classification) of South African flora;
- Hedley Rycroft envisioned the expansion of botanical gardens in South Africa, of which Kirstenbosch was the first;
- Kobus Eloff spearheaded the expanding of the science behind Kirstenbosch;
- Brian Huntley zeroed his focus in on conservation;
- Tanya Abrahamse wants Kirstenbosch to not do science, but lead science and focus on human capital development.
Donaldson listed a number of SANBI firsts in the science arena, including documenting South African flora, indigenous horticulture and SMOKE (referring to the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens Instant Smoke Plus Seed Primer, which overcomes dormancy and stimulates seed germination).
Also being celebrated was SANBI’s partnerships with organizations like the Centre for Biodiversity Conservation, the Botanical Society of South Africa, Cape Nature, universities and researchers.
A showcase display area which was open to the public, included the Compton Herbarium, which documents the plant diversity of the Cape, the Lesley Hill Molecular Laboratory, which houses a national DNA bank for plants and a tissue bank for South African reptiles and the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership, which aims to collect and conserve seeds from 25% of the world’s orthodox plant species by 2020, thereby safeguarding many plant species from extinction.
A number of walks/activities took place throughout the day.
The Centennial Walk attempted to answer: ‘From weed-ridden farm to World Class Botanic Garden …how did it happen and who did it?’
Participants on the Centenarians Walk visited the garden’s most distinguished residents – plants that have been growing at Kirstenbosch for 100 years or more – and those introduced during the first five years. The Bioblitz teamed experts with members of the public to look for, identify and record as many species as possible within a specified time. The resulting pictures are currently available at iSpot.
Prof Guy Midgley, distinguished climate change scientist gave the keynote address entitled ‘Climate Change: What’s the latest on trends and responses’. His talk will be featured in our next issue.
Four Films were screened:
- Invasion: Lessons from the prickly pear
- The Buzz for Food: As our population grows, so does the demand for food, leading to more trees planted and more bees needed to pollinate them, but beekeepers are struggling for sufficient forage (food) sources. Brendan Cooper and PhD student Tlou Masehela discussed the needs of bees.
- Shark Appeal: A shark’s dorsal fin is unique, much like a human fingerprint. Marine biologist Alison Kock shows us a different side of this much-feared ruler of the seas, as she explains how sharks maintain biodiversity by ensuring that a particular prey population does not outnumber in an ecosystem.
- The Collectors: combines the excitement of student James Deacon with the expertise of SANBI horticulturalist Ernst van Jaarsveld as they attempt to walk from the south to the north of Vyftienmylseberg in search of new and special plant species. Ernst explains how you get emotionally attached to the plants that you nurse back to health like they were your own children and James discovers a new plant.
The cinematography of these films is absolutely breathtaking.
The day also formed part of Kirstenbosch’s centenary celebrations: 100 years of Biodiversity Science.
What can we as ordinary citizens do to get involved in biodiversity protection?
- Join the citizen science community at iSpot.
- Volunteer with the Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers (CREW).
- Volunteer with the Botanical Society of South Africa.
Let’s support the experts in ensuring future generations get to have the same awe-inspiring experiences of nature that we do today.
By Tanya Wagner